Video games are part of our culture now. Almost everyone has heard of or played a video game, with the big contenders being Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Video games can even include such games Bejeweled or Farmville or anything on Kongregate. With such a vast variety of games, the community is changing and so too have the face of games.
There is more to games than just playing them though. Go to a forum and search for the video games topic and there will be debates beyond belief, and not just about which system is better. People talk about overall themes in games, plot, continuity and real-world topics such as who is the better innovator in the industry or who the current boogeyman in the community is (it used to be Jack Thompson).
Of course, others have tried to fill this gap in various ways. There are many notable video series about games including Zero Punctuation, Extra Punctuation, Game Overthinker, and Extra Credits. Now all of these are well in good in their own ways, but at least three of these divide community, mostly because all of them are opinion heavy. Extra Credits maintains a neutrality that the others don’t, but are more interested in the industry itself, and both the Punctuations and the Game Overthinker have been attacked for their opinions of things.
You’ll notice that none of these are really blogs though (Extra Punction being the closest) and I find it difficult to name any video game blogs off the top of my head. These series, for how good they all are, are not what I’m after. In my blog, not only would I like to explore some of the industry as they do, but I want to focus more on the intricacies of the games themselves. This will not be a review blog, but go in depth into some of the problems games propose that boggle the community-Is there a straightforward Zelda continuity, does the hero ever end up with the princess, do game franchises with multiple endings have a canon, is this symbolic, etc. Video games are more than an industry and more than just bad or good. And I want to explore that deeper.
I love museums. I could spend days in a museum. With some museums there are truly not enough hours in a day to see everything; with other museums there is not enough space to fit everything in to the museum.
So here we have the inquisitive museum visitor and the space confined museum curator. What are they to do? The visitor simply doesn’t have the time and the curator doesn’t have the space! And, added to that some of the most interesting pieces a museum may own could now be too fragile to be put on display, but what is the point of conserving something if the public can’t see it?
Enter the Smithsonian Institute, a fine example of two problems that museums suffer, too much stuff and not enough space. What is a curator to do? Put it online, that is what a curator is to do! At HistoryWired: A Few of Our Favorite Things the avid museum visitor and history enthusiast can explore the vast collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. On display now you can see pieces that are on display at the Museum of American History but also pieces that are not on display.
As implied by its name the HistoryWired website is a collection of the favorite things of the Smithsonian curators. The website states that “With less than five percent of our vast and diverse collection on public display in our exhibit halls, we hope that Web sites like this will bring many more of our treasures into public view.” When a visitor enters the “museum” they are shown a floor plan of the museum with rooms marked as Home, Clothing, Business, and the like. Subdivided within these boxes are boxes of different shapes that the visitor can move their cursor over and discover what that box represents. The sizes of these item boxes are determined by visitor voting, after viewing an item the visitor is then asked if they would like to see more objects like the one they were looking at. The more popular and object is the bigger its individual box. This voting system allows visitors to see what others have found interesting and noteworthy and let curators to change the exhibit to reflect what the public wants to see. Read more about how to work the website here and more general information here.
This digital museum shows pieces directly related to the history of the United States whether that be the clothing of a time period or the invention of the computer a visitor should be able to find something that interests them. The culture history of the United States is represented magnificently with items of clothing (highbrow and lowbrow), sports paraphernalia, musical recordings, and photography. Science, medicine, technology, are also represented in this digital museum. With each image you click on you get more information about the item and the time period of the item. Depending on what kind of item you click on you could be directed to a recording of music or a speech or articles written by Smithsonian historians.
With so many different pieces on this site one might wonder if it is difficult to find something pertaining to a specific time period or subject. The answer would be no! It is not difficult to search this site. (Color me surprised!) You can modify your visit by time period (like WWI or everything pre 1800) or you can look at items only dealing with daily life or whatever subgroup you are interested in. You can even search for specific things like Woodstock or Hell’s Angels and find a match. A hopeful search for airplanes or flight yielded nothing, a sad oversight I believe!
I have to admit that when I first started playing around with HistoryWired I was skeptical. Very skeptical. Why would I want to look online at objects that I could see in person? After spending sometime looking at the objects displayed and reading about them I was won over. I like that there are links to more information, that if you are looking at a piece of music there is a link to hear the music. I thought it was great that I could look at a dress form the 1800s and then a playboy bunny costume and that each piece was given a historically valid reason for being part of the online collection. This website manages to put what should be in several different museums all in one place. Hours could be spent on this site but because of its formatting it does not seem overwhelming. I do not think that this is what museums should turn into but I do think that it is a nice companion to a museum. I look forward to more museums creating a site like HistoryWired.
Wordle.net is a very curious little website. The website describes itself as, “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text [the user] provide[s].” That is pretty much the only way to describe Wordle that I can think of. Alright, not necessarily the best, because not everyone knows what a word cloud is, but it is certainly good for a short description. Wordle lets anyone input text in a box and it will churn out an image of all the words arranged in a picture, such as the one provided :
Working Wordle is actually very simple. The home page provides a short description and puts a link right in front of the user telling the user to create their own Wordle image. The interface in the creation page is fairly simple. There are three boxes that use can put text into. The top one lets the user type in whatever he wants. The second lets the user provide a link to a blog (well any website URL will do but they recommend a blog URl). The third allows you to put in a del.icio.us username and it will create a Wordle image of their tags. After providing whatever text the user wants, they can click the button to create a Worlde. They are then provided an image and limited ways to alter the image. The user can change the color of the words and background, the font or the text layout. The user can also change around the language setting for their image. Unfortunately, I do not really know any other languages so I just kept the default English settings.
Publishing and copying images is a mixed bag. For those with a blog or website, Wordle.net is very willing to give you the link and even generates the HTML code for you to just copy and paste into your blog. If you want to save the image to your hard drive though, or if you are like me and are just too stupid to use the HTML code, you have to go through a more roundabout process. The website’s FAQ tells you that in order to save an image, you will have to use a screen capture and save it that way. It is kind of a hassle, but fortunately the FAQ is rather helpful with the process.
Speaking of which, the FAQ for the site is very useful. I do not know just how helpful the troubleshooting section is, because I did not have many problems that needed to be troubleshot, but there are some useful tidbits to be found there. One example is that the more times one word appears in a text block, the larger it is going to be in the image. So if you put, “gold gold gold silver silver copper” in the text box when you create your image, the copper is going to the smallest word, the silver is going to be twice as big as the copper and the gold is going to be three times as big as the copper. Another useful tip is that you can use a tilde(~) between words keep them together when the image is generated, and Wordle will replace the tilde with a space.
The FAQ also answers some questions on what you can and cannot do with a Wordle. The creator allows for you to copy and paste your Wordles and use and sell your creations freely. The site is fairly open. The only problem is with the code. Apparently the creator, Jonathan Feinberg, created the code for Wordle.net while working at IBM, and his contract stipulates everything created on company time belongs to the company. So Wordle belongs to IBM.
The are a couple of issues with Wordle that stands out in my mind. The biggest that stands out for me is that Wordle has a very short memory of the images it generates. What I mean is that every time I change tabs with a new image open that I forgot to save, for some reason Wordle loses the image. I do not know if this is a problem with my browser (Safari) or a problem with the website itself. I find it hard to complain to much though because that is a negligible problem that can probably be avoided rather easily and images are often easy to recreate. Also, the site does not appear to have that problem is you change windows, so you can just create your images in a separate window and do not open a new tab in that window.
Wordle is a very simple, very easy to use toy. It is very approachable for anyone who wants to try it. The only real problem that I could see is that I cannot figure out a point to it. I sit in front of my computer screen for a couple of minutes, put something into the text box, edit it a little. I now have a nice little picture and all I can say is, “Now what?” My roommate suggested that it might be useful for advertising. I could see that, but I am personally a little put off by it from a design perspective, so I am probably going to approach that suggestion with caution. It is, for me, a toy. Something you play around with for a couple of minutes, maybe return to once or twice, share it with your friends, and forget about it. There is a rather large gallery of images created by users, so you can see what other people did with it. It is interesting and easy to use, but at the end of the day lacking any real function.
Voyeur is a free online text analysis tool that is being constructed as part of the Hermeneuti.ca project. On their site, creators Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell define Hermeneuti.ca as a way to “think through some foundations of contemporary text analysis, including issues related to the electronic texts used, the tools and methodologies available, and the various forms that can take the expression of results from text analysis.”
Voyeur works well with the overall mission of the Hermeneuti.ca project because it allows users to explore the potential use of text analysis in a free and somewhat user- friendly space. In order to use the program, users simply enter or upload a text into the white box on the main page and then click the reveal button. Once the text has been “revealed” users can learn useful information such as how many times a word has been used, the distribution of the use of that word, the vocabulary density of a document, and the number of distinctive words used. Furthermore, when you click the small arrow at the bottom left of the screen; it will also show you word trends and your keywords in context. One of the more useful components of Voyeur is that it allows researchers to analyze both a corpus of documents or individual sources.
In order to demonstrate the full usefulness of the program, the site contains a helpful article “Now Analyze That” that demonstrates how researchers used Voyeur to analyze speeches made on race by Barack Obama and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. They used the program to identify each speaker’s political priorities and overall views of race relations. Examples such as this help researchers new to text analysis learn how to effectively use this research tool.
Because the program quickly counts how many times a word is used within a given text, I found Voyeur to have the most potential for historians interested in using quantitative analysis to study rhetoric in texts. For example, as a historian interested in gender, I could use Voyeur to scan a primary source and see how many times and where gendered language appears in a text. I could then use this information to see how gendered language is used in that particular text to create concepts of masculinity and femininity. While historians of gender have long sorted through sources for evidence of gendered language, Voyeur can now allow us to do it in a much quicker and more efficient way. Furthermore, Voyeur’s ability to search multiple documents at a time provides historians with a convenient tool for analyzing specific themes within a group of documents.
While Voyeur is still under construction, I found the site to have much potential for researchers. Although I did have some trouble navigating all the tools of the program at first, the site as whole offered a plentiful (sometimes overwhelming) amount of tutorials and articles that help novices to text analysis find their way. Furthermore, while going through this site, I particularly learned how digital media sites such as this one, can both change how historians look at sources and expose scholars to new forms of research.
If you use text analysis in your research do you find this program helpful? How do programs such as this change the way the historian researches? How can Voyeur be used to help us find new themes within documents?
Many Eyes is a powerful tool that enables a user to create visualizations from any kind of data set.
Here’s where it gets fun: while a user can upload their own data set, Many Eyes is a community-powered tool. There are over 150,000 data sets to choose from, and many are pre-visualized.
Another (seemingly underused) feature are Topic Centers. Topic Centers allow teams of people to collaborate on visualizations. Topic Centers are organized around certain topics (makes sense, right?), as well as teams of people at organizations and classes (like this one).
Here are some examples:
Average Time Spent Commuting by State
Number of arrests by age and type of crime
News Blogs Dominated By A Few Startups
But selecting a dataset from the community is not always the best option: the metadata associated with many of the datasets is inaccurate or incomplete. Rest assured, because what makes Many Eyes such a versatile tool is that any type of data is accepted, so long as it is in a structured format. Data needs to be pre-formatted in Microsoft Excel (or similar spreadsheet software), then pasted into Many Eyes’ Web interface.
Then the user is presented with an array of visualization options, from tag clouds and word trees to assorted graphs and even maps.
A couple of potential uses for historians:
Take a historical text or speech (i.e. the Gettysburg Address) and create a tag cloud from it, where the more frequently a word is used, the larger it will appear.
Create a network diagram to visualize a historical figure’s family tree.
Use a map to show population trends over time.
Over the summer, I took air traffic control data and visualized it using Many Eyes, for fun. It was easy to use every step of the way. In fact, it’s so easy to use, the hardest part should be finding the data in the first place.
It is beyond imperative to have good visuals when working on the Web, since readers hate long blocks of static text. Bringing a history project to the Web calls for the use of visualizations like those that can be generated using Many Eyes. It will make your work more attractive, and will certainly help your readers understand things better. At the end of the day, it’s all about them!